Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

The following are notes from a talk I gave as part of the Chaplain Chats series on February 21st, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania. You may listen to the audio here:

Why the apparent connection between Blacks and Islam? What does Islam deal with in terms of Black America?

  • The continued struggle of Blackamericans to “settle upon a self-definition that is functionally enabling and sufficiently “authentic”;
  • The power and influence of white supremacy and its value system as a “seminal force of the contemporary global cum American sociopolitical order;
  • The hegemony of modern, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.
  • Blacks relate to Islam as blacks [i.e., “oppressed people”] and there is nothing unique or interesting about the link between BAM’s and Islam.
  • Blackamericans often saw a liberating agent in Islam that was not there for them in Christianity. Ironically, it was not present for Muslims living in the Muslim world either. The following is from the South African Muslim Judicial Council during the reign of apartheid:

“Has the [apartheid] government forbidden the worship of Allah? Has the government closed down or ordered the demolition of any mosque in a declared white area? If our government has ordered our Muslims to desert the faith of our forefathers, then our ulema would have been the first to urge us to resist, even to the death.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

What is Black Religion? Def: “a pragmatic, folk-oriented, holy protest against anti-black racism, an orientation shared with many, though not all, Blackamerican Christians and Jews.

Challenges of Islam & Black Religion

  • Post-immigration, many Blackamerican Muslims founded it difficult [and still do!] if unable to address their cultural, political and social realities in ways that were effective in an American context and simultaneously recognized as validly “Islamic” on the other.
  • The proclivities of immigrant Muslims who were assumed to be the inheritors of a “super-tradition of historical Islam”, rendering all of their cultural practices as normative if not desirable.
  • Such norms as the thawb have been subsumed under the “Sunnah”: والقوعد من النساء التى لا يرجون نكاحا فليس عليهن جناح أن يضعن ثيبهن غير متبرجت بزينة “As for women who are past child-bearing age and no longer have any hope of getting married, there is nothing wrong in their removing their outer clothes, provided they do not flaunt their adornments” Qur’an, 24: 60.
  • “America … produced the distinctly racial understanding of difference.” “American whiteness has always reigned as the most prized public asset a citizen could own.”
  • 1965: U.S. immigration law renders Muslim immigrants [Middle East/SEA] as legally “white”.

False Universals

  • Universalisms are ultimately neither as transcendent nor as enabling as they might like to be imagined. Such universals only serve the psychological and or material interests
  • Human rights, freedom, beauty, good, “Islamic”.
  • FU: to speak in universal terms but from a particular cultural, ideological or historical point of view. “’Human,’, ‘Islam,’ ‘justice,’ and the like are all taken, thus, to represent not particular understandings but ontological realities that are equally esteemed and apprehended by everyone, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.”
  • To give obeisance or risk castigation.
  • Immigrant Islam “universalizes the particular”.

In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Taking Ownership: the function of the heterodox groups

  • They transformed—if not the creed certainly the “idea” of—Islam for Blackamericans and allowed them to lay claim to it in a way that historical/Traditional Islam had/has as of yet to do.
  • This, more than anything else, I believe what has grafted Islam onto the broader psyche of Blackamericans, rendering Islam a valid religious choice amongst the possibilities of Blackamericans.
  • In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Blackamerican Muslim History

  • First Resurrection: from slave times to 1975 with the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
  • Second Resurrection: from Elijah’s death until the divided leadership of Farrakhan and W.D. Muhammad.
  • Third Resurrection: the mastery of the Sunni discourse. The 3R seeks to “thwart the power and pretense of false universals”. Still waiting.

Lessons & Take Aways

Why/how did Islam fail to convey itself to modern Blacks unhampered/unmolested?

“The argument goes that Africans, unable to speak one another’s languages or being of rival cultures and living together on disparate, isolated farms, could neither fully maintain nor successfully pass on their traditional cultures to future generation.  Therefore, with each passing generation, more and more of the slaves’ African heritage disappeared or became incomprehensible to their American-born children.  Whites, seeing African cultures as uncivilized or the breeding ground for rebellion, accelerated this process of cultural disintegration by prohibiting most public displays of the slaves’ ancestral customs.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

Scarcity of resources available to Blacks led to the decline of African religions [Islam included].

In regards to assimilation [versus indigenization]:

“Given the increased vulnerability of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, there is a perduring temptation among many immigrant Muslims to seek acceptance by mainstream America in exchange for a domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these. This entails an attempt to identify Islam with the proclivities and sensibilities of the dominant group. On such a reconciliation, however, Blackamerican Muslims who feel penalized, threatened, or devalued by the dominant culture are effectively called upon, now in the name of Islam, to abandon protest and the legitimate aspects of Black Religion and acquiesce to the indignities implied by white supremacy.”

Embracing God By Embracing America: American Muslims, Shari’ah & the Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – Preamble of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

What is the Shari’ah? Is it taking over America? Can American Muslims embrace the United States’ Constitution as believing Muslims?

Extra Reading

Maqasid al-Shari’ah handout/cheatsheet [PDF].

Dr. Sherman Jackson’s response, ” ‘Soft Shari‘a Fundamentalism’ and the Totalitarian Epistemology of Vincent Cornell” in [PDF].

Vincent Cornell’s article, “Reasons Public and Divine: Liberal Democracy, Shari‘a Fundamentalism, and the Epistemological Crisis of Islam.” [PDF].

Islam in a Global Perspective: What Makes Islam Work?

The following is a lecture I gave at the University of Pennsylvania for UPenn’s MSA. This talk kicked off the Chaplain Chats for the Spring 2012 term.

For more on Islam and culture see my lecture Lecture on the Accommodation of Local Customs in Islamic Law at the Ella Collins 2012 Winter Retreat.

Do We Need A Fiqh of Facebook? A Khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania

We live in an age where multitasking competes with the remembrance of God. There are so many things which seek to distract us, new arenas which challenge our character. In such an age it is even more critical we put our religion on conversations with these new scenarios so that even online, we conduct ourselves with dignity and the remembrance of God. The following is a khutbah I delivered at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday, January 20th, 2012.

[audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbahs/2012-1-20-upenn.mp3|titles=Do We Need A Fiqh of Facebook? A Khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania|artists=Marc Manley]

The Heart – A Khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania

The believer and the heart: how it can be influenced. How it should be protected.

Concerns of the Heart: [audio:http://www.marcmanley.com/media/mp3s/khutbahs/2011-12-16-upenn-the-heart.mp3|titles=Concerns of the Heart|artists=Marc Manley]

Protecting one’s heart

  • From without: الحواسّ الخمس
  • From within: suggestive imagination [الخيال]; passions [الشهوة]; anger [الغضب].

Our hearts are troubled by the things we see but we should take comfort in knowing that God is always manifesting His Truth:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَآ إِلَىٰٓ أُمَمٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَأَخَذْنَٰهُم بِٱلْبَأْسَآءِ وَٱلضَّرَّآءِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ
فَلَوْلَآ إِذْ جَآءَهُم بَأْسُنَا تَضَرَّعُوا۟ وَلَٰكِن قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
فَلَمَّا نَسُوا۟ مَا ذُكِّرُوا۟ بِهِۦ فَتَحْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَبْوَٰبَ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا فَرِحُوا۟ بِمَآ أُوتُوٓا۟ أَخَذْنَٰهُم بَغْتَةًۭ فَإِذَا هُم مُّبْلِسُونَ

“We sent Messengers to nations before you, and afflicted those nations with hardship and distress so that hopefully they would humble themselves (42). If only they had humbled themselves when Our violent force came upon them! However, their hearts were hard and Shaytan made what they were doing seem attractive to them. (43) When they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened up for them the doors to everything, until, when they were exulting in what they had been given, We suddenly seized them and at once they were in despair (44).” – Qur’an, 6: 42-44.

Involuntary suggestions: protect yourself from influences.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: اتق الله حيهما كنت وأتبع السيئة الَحسنةَ تمحها وخالق الناس بخلق حسن – الترمذي

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Keep God in mind wherever you are; follow a bad deed with a good so that it offsets it and treat people with courtesy.’ Al-Tirmidhi”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: أكثر ما يدخل الجنة تقوى الله وحسن الخلق

“The Messenger of God said: ‘What allows many to enter paradise is taqwa of God and good character.’ Al-Tirmidhi”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: الزنا يوثر الفقر

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Illicit sex begets poverty.’ Al-Suyuti on ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar”.

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ما أعز الله بجهل قط ولا أذل بعلم قط ولا نقصت صدقة من مال

“The Messenger of God said: ‘Illicit sex begets poverty.’ Al-Daylami on ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar”.

أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَن تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ ٱلْحَقِّ وَلَا يَكُونُوا۟ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ مِن قَبْلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلْأَمَدُ فَقَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌۭ مِّنْهُمْ فَٰسِقُونَ

“Has the time not arrived for the hearts of those who have iman to yield to the remembrance of Allah and to the truth He has sent down, so they are not like those who were given the Book before for whom the time seemed over long so that their hearts became hard? Many of them are deviators.” Qur’an, 57: 16.